Shhh! It might be a secret elsewhere, but the Roxana High girls’ tennis program is quietly building on its success.
The Shells went 10-5 in dual competition the past season and finished fifth in the Alton Sectional. In addition, junior singles player Sydney Owsley qualified for state and she joined teammates Anna and Georgia Ballard, Haley Milazzo and Sara Kruetztrager on the all-South Central Conference team. Senior Annie Meyers also contributed to the cause.
“It’s definitely the most successful season we’ve had,” 18th-year coach Mike Kathriner said.
Milazzo, a sophomore, said the Shells’ winning ways were a byproduct of their spirited cohesiveness.
“It was a fun season,” she said. “I just like being with my teammates. That made it fun. And we were pretty successful.”
Owsley, who won 23 matches overall, including three at state, said: “Everybody got along well and we had a good season. The team was successful.”
The chemistry was right, Kreutztrager said.
“The girls had a lot of camaraderie and were very successful,” she said. “The future looks pretty good for us.”
Kathriner said the past points toward a promising future. It began three years ago when seniors Meyers, plus the Ballards, started playing varsity tennis. In 2014, the Shells went 13-2 in duals and continued the pace this fall. Owsley is a junior, while Milazzo and Kruetztrager are sophomores.
“All of this started when the seniors were freshmen,” Kathriner said. “They have really worked hard at it, especially in the off season.”
Owsley’s three wins in the IHSA finals at Chicagoland capped it nicely, he said of the three-day competition that ended Oct. 24.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a player from Roxana win three matches at state,” Kathriner said. “Sydney played really well. In a way, she’s a little bulldog.”
And it was a very passionate weekend for Owsley. The last time she played at state was two years ago, when she teamed with sister Samantha. One month later, Samantha died in an auto accident. There’s a pavilion next to the Roxana High tennis courts named in Samantha’s honor.
“Going back to state wasn’t as emotional as I thought it was going to be,” Sydney said. “We went to some of the same places that we visited two years ago. It brought back good memories of us being together.
“I dedicated it (the weekend) to her.”
Kathriner added, “Sydney didn’t show a lot of emotion and she handled it well. We were happy to get her to state.”
Owsley finished fourth in the Alton Sectional to earn her trip to state. The Ballards went to the IHSA finals as doubles partners when they were juniors. They played at No. 1 doubles for the Shells.
“Qualifying for state was a big part of my high school career,” said Georgia Ballard, who is going with Anna to Lewis and Clark Community College. “It’s going to be different going to college next year. This season was a lot of fun because our team was really good.”
Anna Ballard added, “Going to state was very enjoyable and one of my favorite things in high school tennis. It will be a new experience at Lewis and Clark Community College next year.”
The returning players intend to keep the ball rolling at Roxana.
“I’m looking forward to the next two years,” Milazzo said.
Owsley added, “I think the team will be good again next year. My goal is to get back to state and win some more matches.”
Since the IHSA is going to a two-class system in 2016, the Shells should benefit from it, according to Kathriner. No longer will they be paired with Edwardsville, Alton and other large schools in postseason play.
“Nobody knows how it will work,” he said. “But it should be a little easier to get players to state. There’s no reason we can’t be competitive or be in the mix of things during sectionals.”
Kathriner pointed out, “We’d like to continue at the level we are at now and maybe play some harder competition. The program was on a roller-coaster ride for a while, but now we are way more consistent.”
That consistency is hardly a secret and the Shells don’t mind shouting about it. They have paid their dues and earned that right.
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